Benefit of Clergy
Benefit of Clergy a privilege by which, in countries where popery prevailed, persons in holy orders were exempted, either wholly or partially, from the jurisdiction of lay tribunals. The privilege was created out of regard to the clerical order, but it was soon abused. It was originally designed for clerici (clerks); and at first none could be admitted to it but such as had the usual distinction, habitus et tonsura clericalis; but subsequently, in England, all persons who could read were by law declared to be clerks, and the number of claimants almost indefinitely increased. It was abolished by the 7th and 8th of Geo. IV, c. 28. "In America this privilege has been formally abolished in some of the states, and allowed only in one or two cases in others; while in others, again, it does not appear to have been known at all. By the act of Congress of April 30, 1790, it is enacted that 'benefit of clergy shall not be used or allowed, upon conviction of any crime for which, by any statute of the United States, the punishment is or shall be declared to be death.'" See Blackstone, Commentaries, 4, 28.